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Legends of the Madonna - The Adoration of the Shepherds

( Originally Published 1895 )



Ital. L' Adorazione dei Pastori. Fr. L'Adoration des Bergers. Ger. Die Anbetung der Hirten.

The story thus proceeds : When the angels were gone away into heaven, the shepherds came with haste, " and found Mary, and Joseph, and the young Child lying in a manger."

Being come, they present their pastoral offerings a lamb, or doves, or fruits (but these, considering the season, are misplaced) ; they take off their hats with reverence, and worship in rustic fashion. In Raphael's composition [one of the panels of the Loggia, Vatican], the shepherds, as we might expect from him, look as if they had lived in Arcadia. In some of the later Italian pictures they pipe and sing. It is the well-known custom in Italy for the shepherds of the Campagna, and of Calabria, to pipe before the Madonna and Child at Christmas time ; and these piffereri, with their sheepskin jackets, ragged hats, bagpipes, and tabors, were evidently the models reproduced in some of the finest pictures of the Bolognese school; for instance, in the famous Nativity by Annibal Caracci, where a picturesque figure in the corner is blowing into the bagpipes with might and main. In the Venetian pictures of the Nativity, the shepherds are accompanied by their women, their sheep, and even their dogs. According to an old legend, Simon and Jude, afterwards apostles, were among these shepherds.

When the angels scatter flowers, as in compositions by Raphael and Ludovico Caracci, we must suppose that they were not gathered on earth, but in heaven.

The Infant is sometimes asleep : so Milton sings

But see the Virgin blest Hath laid her Babe to rest!

In a drawing by Raphael the Child slumbers, and Joseph raises the coverlid to show him to a shepherd. We have the same idea in several other instances. In a graceful composition by Titian, it is the Virgin-mother who raises the veil from the face of the sleeping Child.

From the number of figures and accessories, the Nativity thus treated as an historical subject becomes capable of almost endless variety ; but as it is one not to be mistaken, and has a universal meaning and interest, I may now leave it to the fancy and discrimination of the observer.



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